By Guido Ebert
I have always wanted to ride a Can-Am Spyder – you know, that three-wheeled vehicle made by our French-Canadian friends at BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products).
My friend, Jeffery, was a part of the marketing team that traveled around the country and offered consumers test rides upon the Spyder’s introduction in 2007. While I have had an interest in riding the Spyder ever since the three-wheeler came out, the numerous humorous stories he regaled me with about test rides gone wrong further stoked my interest in the machine. Could it really be as queer an experience as I was hearing?
Finally, last month, the good folks at St. Boni Motorsports invited me to take a spin on a 2014 Spyder RT Limited ($30,499), the luxury-touring version of the trike that’s also offered in Touring trim as a base RT ($22,999) and RT-S ($26,449). Like all RT models, the Limited comes with a newly designed 1330cc Rotax ACE engine, massive storage ability (41 gallons!), and a long list of bells and whistles to ease a long-haul experience for operator and passenger.
These three RT models complement a pair of lesser models, the sport-touring ST ($18,999) and sporty RS ($14,899), which still remain powered by a 991cc lump. Plus, by the time you read this, BRP will have introduced yet another model, the performance-oriented 2015 Spyder F3 that offers a radically different design and styling.
The Can-Am Spyder is a technological marvel, infused with enough cables and electronic control units to make a pimply faced tech student a threat to the NSA. On the RT Ltd., I found dynamic power steering, a semi-automatic push-button transmission, electronic cruise control, an adjustable electric windshield, electronically adjustable rear suspension, an electronic braking system with ABS, traction control, an integrated Garmin Zumo 660 color touchscreen GPS, heated grips, LED lighting … oh, and a 1200W alternator to keep all of that – plus your personal electronics – energized.
St. Boni gave me a 30-minute walk-around of the RT Ltd., explaining systems and offering operating suggestions. I’m glad they did. First, starting the machine requires a certain sequence. Second, you have to understand how to best use the throttle with the super slick semi-automatic transmission. Third, operating the machine with its unique chassis layout requires just the right amount of weight distribution and handlebar manipulation. But more about all of that later.
I curved around the parking lot to get a feel for all of the intricacies just explained to me. Press the paddle-shifter into gear. Twist the throttle. Press the paddle-shifter up into second gear under acceleration. Turn. Stop by using your right foot on the sole brake pedal. Press the Reverse button and paddle shifter into 1st. Press throttle to reverse. Power down. Power up.
Ok, here we go.
As you know, a machine’s nuances often reveal themselves within the first few miles of operation. I chose to travel north out of St. Boni on CR92, a route that had me riding relatively straight for my inaugural miles atop the Spyder. Accelerate, decelerate. No surprises. That is, until I encountered a right-handed sweeper and a learning experience just south of Watertown Rd.
Although this all happened within just a couple of seconds, I recall that entering the curve with the same body position I’d use on a Gold Wing or Vision wasn’t working; understeer set in, and the chances of me drifting into the oncoming lane and plowing into the outside ditch seemed like a very real possibility. But it didn’t happen.
Instead of turning the bars outward (adding pressure to the inside) as you would in a sweeper on a motorcycle, the Spyder requires you point it in the direction of travel. A-ha! Slow in, add power at the apex and squirt out of the exit. It was a split-second lesson, but one that quickly enhanced confidence in my operation of the three-wheeler. A few curvy miles later and I was getting into the groove, playing with gear selection upon corner entry, trying to tax the electronics that were designed to keep me safe.
I pulled over at the Minnetonka Drive-In in Spring Park for a strawberry malt and to ponder my initial experience on the Spyder. I just told you about how the Spyder’s unique chassis layout requires the right amount of weight distribution and handlebar manipulation; here’s what else I learned:
1) Starting the machine requires a certain sequence. Step on the brake pedal, turn the key. After you turn the key on, a “Read Safety Card” message flashes across the digital display and riders must press the “Mode” button to acknowledge you read the card. Step on the brake pedal, flip the power switch, thumb the starter, depress the parking brake.
2) You have to understand how to best use the throttle with the super slick semi-automatic 6-speed transmission. It’s easy, really: Just twist the right grip and keep on the stick as you use your left thumb to deliver electronic upshifts. See a red light ahead? Release the throttle, brake, and let the vehicle downshift for you, or downshift the vehicle manually with your left trigger finger and listen to the engine automatically rev-match as you drop gears. Reminded me of a sequential gearbox in a rally car.
The Spyder RT’s triple puts out a claimed 96 ft. lb. of peak torque @ 5,000 rpm and goes on to achieve 115hp @ 7,250 rpm. In sixth gear, I saw 3,500 rpm at 70mph and about 4,800 rpm at 92mph.
I can only imagine how cool a piped Spyder would sound as it rev-matches during downshifts. It’d be easy enough to find out, though, since Can-Am sells Akropovic exhausts through its accessories catalog. The company offers both a sport touring and sport version for the 991cc engines, and a sport touring version for the 1330cc powerplant in the RT. Both pipes come with dual outlets, removable baffles, a titanium shell and carbon fiber end cap. Oh, and they’re EPA, CARB and CE certified.
3) Braking is a drama-free affair. A single, large, right foot-operated pedal initiates the “Electronic Brake Distribution System” – a hydraulically activated braking system that links all three 270mm discs and Brembo stoppers for a controllable decrease in speed. Oh, and when you’re parked, the vehicle stays parked via an electromechanical parking brake.
4) We already discussed how the chassis geometry demands a riding style that would prove new to motorcyclists. The front suspension is formed by a double A-arm set-up stiffened by an anti-roll bar and damped by 30mm Sachs shocks. The result leaves the vehicle upright, no matter how much body weight you try to throw into it in a corner. Two-up? No need to tell your passenger to lean into cloverleafs. There’s also no need to get out a spanner to adjust the preload on the rear suspension – just push a dash-mounted button. As for steering feedback, BRP’s dynamic power steering lightens handlebar effort at pedestrian speeds and adds a more weighted feel as speed increases.
5) Interested in what was propelling me, I got down to inspect the 225/50 R15 rear tire and found that it resembled the winter rubber on my 325i. Up front, the 12-spoke chromed aluminum wheels are a love-it-or-hate-it affair. Personally, I’d prefer something a bit more subtle. But, then again, if you’re sitting atop a vehicle as unique looking as the Spyder, you may not be into subtlety. My friend, Steve, bought a Corvette with chrome rims. Different strokes.
Ultimately, the Spyder feels a lot like driving a big-bore ATV with low profile tires … but specially prepared to deliver far better road manners. You’re sitting on top of the machine, utilizing handlebars to maneuver two front wheels that deliver a fair amount of road feel. And, once moving forward, you really do forget that there’s only a single rear wheel driving the machine.
I received no love from motorcyclists during my time on the Spyder RT Ltd., and folks who did express an attraction to it had absolutely no clue that these vehicles have been available for the past seven years.
So, who buys the Spyder? My other job as a powersports industry researcher has allowed me a glimpse into the demographics.
Sales in the U.S. ramped up during the first four years and have averaged about 8,000 units annually during the past three years. Although I hesitate to pigeonhole buyers, they have, overwhelmingly, shown to be senior men, women and handicapped riders.
Why? Aging Baby Boomers may feel it time to park the two-wheeler but still desire the wind-in-the-face experience; women may be in search of an open-air experience on a more approachable machine than a two-wheeler; and the handicapped may just want to get out and ride, with the stability of the three-wheeler and minimal foot controls making the Spyder the perfect option.